Marketing through the ages: The 2000s bring the dilemmas of digital

As part of our 40th birthday celebration, we asked previous editors to sum up marketing and Marketing Week during their time at the helm. Ruth Mortimer was editor in the early 2010s as the impact of digital led to real challenges over scale versus consolidation of power, audience versus context and personal versus personalisation.

2000s marketing timeline

The story of marketing over the past decade is one of enormous contradiction. Our story takes place in a globalised world – connected by the internet – where it is possible to reach a global audience at mass scale with messages designed for each individual.

But wait! It’s not just that tale. There is another contradictory narrative. It is the story of consumers drowning in choice, in competing marketing messages and becoming increasingly aware of the value and power of their data. But hey, a bit of contradiction only makes things more interesting for marketers, doesn’t it?

Things in 2018 are neither good nor bad for marketers; they are both challenging and brilliant. But at least they are not the worst of all things: boring.

Looking back to the turn of the millennium, I’m going to set out a few of the largest marketing contractions of the past 18 years.

Opportunity vs implementation

Digital has offered great opportunity, but also great challenges. A few years ago, Scott Brinker (creator of the chief marketing technologist blog) described technology growth as exponential while organisational change remained logarithmic.

In simple terms, this means that technology development occurs faster than we can implement it. Organisations simply cannot change their processes or culture fast enough to take on the benefits of new technology.

The more brands’ technology stacks expand, the more people become involved in purchase decisions. Marketers have an incredible selection of channels and tools available to them but can they take advantage of them? Their companies aren’t set up to make the best use of them, nor do marketers themselves have the skills to use them. Ninety-five per cent of marketing leaders report being negatively impacted by the lack of qualified talent in the digital marketing space, according to data from TEKsystems Digital.

So while opportunities presented by new channels and real-time technology have defined the past decade, it appears that marketers and their brands have not adapted fast enough to fully benefit.

Scale vs consolidation of power

The growth in digital media and automation offers scale and growth but the rise of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) has consolidated immense scale and power in a few companies. These companies control the majority of advertising spend and eyeballs, and have immense data on consumers. Google and Facebook alone collected 63% of all US advertising spend in 2017.

2010s marketing timeline

Marketers have access to a global audience in a way that would have been impossible just a decade before, but the relationship with them is often held by GAFA. This means marketers are at risk of losing their connection to the audience on these platforms when an algorithm is changed. In February this year, publisher LittleThings shut down just weeks after Facebook implemented a news feed change, citing lost visibility for its content.

For marketers, GAFA offer targeted advertising and audience profiling at a scale never seen before, but the flipside of this is that the access to this audience and the tools involved are owned by just a few, increasingly powerful organisations.

Media reach vs social reach

As Google, Amazon and Facebook have achieved such enormous global scale, our relationship with information has also changed. Consumers no longer look only to traditional media sources for their information. Huge numbers absorb information through Twitter and Facebook rather than The Times or The Mirror.

While the term ‘social influencer’ might make you cringe and think of pouting Instagram models, it’s big business. Digital influencers represented the largest majority group that brands have worked with for endorsement and commercial opportunities in 2017, according to Celebrity Intelligence’s Age of Influence report. For every £1 spent on a talent-led campaign, brands are getting an average of £17.21 back, meaning it’s an ROI that seems more attractive than many traditional advertising options.

Will contradictions and complications define the next decade of marketing? In a world where nothing stays the same, we have to embrace the hope that it will get better.

However, although new types of information and influencer may give marketers more ways to reach consumers than ever before, consumer trust is declining. Outside of a traditional media environment, attention-grabbing, shareable content can work better than accurate or unbiased information.

While media brands are legally responsible for their content, the unregulated social space has allowed fake news to thrive. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents to a Morning Consult study admitted they had at least once started to read a story before realising it was fake news.

In some senses, fake news is a triumph of marketing over facts. Fake news works on the principle that people are more engaged by an emotional message they want to believe than anything else. But it’s also unregulated, often untrue and damages consumer trust in what they see online, which is bad news for marketers.

Audience vs context

Let’s not forget programmatic buying and automation. Again, an enormous contradiction for marketers. The promise of programmatic is the ability to scale your advertising and find the right audience, wherever they may be. It focuses on finding the right people but not on the context of the information.

Although marketers have benefitted enormously from automation, the brand safety issues seen over the past couple of years show that context still matters. Hamish Nicklin, chief revenue officer at The Guardian, gave me the best example of the value of context a couple of years ago at an event: he joked that if Rolex just wanted eyeballs, it should probably advertise in a man’s urinal in a bar in The City of London.

Of course, Nicklin continued, Rolex would never do this because the context is so wrong. Rolex needs context to maintain its luxury positioning. It can’t be seen advertising in a urinal, regardless of the volume of affluent men it might reach. His point was that context always matters.

Personal vs personalisation

As technology allows for greater personalisation, this offers an opportunity for one-to-one relationships. In its purest form, personalisation is about opening up customer-centric conversations. Nearly half of those in the millennial age group expect to see brands present customised offers for them; the figure is nearly a third for UK adults as a whole, according to American Express research.

However, the contradiction here is that consumers are not consistent. They want personalisation when it improves the experience for them, but should it only benefit marketers they have little interest. As many as 63% said they wanted to see less targeted advertising in the future in a recent Reuters survey, while just 9% wanted more.

Will contradictions and complications define the next decade of marketing? The great American journalist Sydney J Harris said: “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” In a world where nothing stays the same, we have to embrace the hope that it will get better.

Ruth Mortimer was Marketing Week editor from 2012 to 2015 and is now managing partner for digital products at Econsultancy



There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Jandy Bongcayat 20 Oct 2018

    Marketing is the study and management of exchange relationship. It is used to create keep, and satisfy the customer. Marketing in the past decade is one of the enormous contradiction. There are many contradiction happens in marketing like: first, opportunity vs implementation in that case digital has offered great opportunity, but also great challenges. It means that technology development occurs faster than we can implement it. Organisations simply cannot change their processes or culture fast enough to take on the benefits of new technology. Because now we are in the modern world. Second, Scale vs consolidation of power. The growth in digital media and automation offers scale and growth but the rise of technology like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, consolidated immense scale and power in a few companies. Marketers have access to a global audience in a way that would have been impossible just a decade before, because change is constant. There are many changes happened in our world not just in our society but also in marketing. Third, Media reach vs social reach
    As Google, Amazon and Facebook have achieved such enormous global scale, our relationship with information has also changed. However, the contradiction here is that consumers are not consistent. In our world , nothing stays the same, we should accept and embrace the fact that it will get better. That in our modern world nothing stays the same, it is just like the same in marketing.

  2. joylyn gamiao 24 Oct 2018

    Chitty, W. (2012) stated that internet performs multifaceted marketing function; it provides the mechanism for building demand, conducting transaction, filing orders, providing customers services and serving as a versatile advertising medium.
    Digital marketing is significant because more and more consumers are on-line. It is an immediate way to reach them. Moreover, digital marketing is an easy way for companies to promote their brand’s story and bring companies to life on an on-line platform. However, engagement in digital marketing posed the dilemma on the companies due to enormous contradictions. Contradictions mentioned in the article are opportunity vs. implementation; scale vs consolidation of power; media reach vs social reach; audience vs content; personal vs personalization. Marketing strategies evolved. Mode of advertising that is effective before may not be that useful at present. Thus, it is important that companies should be updated with an effective approach on reaching the market and must take every opportunity digital marketing may offer. Harbour, S. (2016) stated that more people turn to the internet, business increase their chances for success by building an on-line presence through Emarketing.
    A successful digital marketing strategy is in the combination of technology- focused initiatives and data- driven ideologies with the combination of well-shifted and trained digital marketers and leadership (Khinda,A. 2017) . Marketing is an investment, it is an investment in people and time and money that must be nurtured and work at in order to be optimized.
    Digital marketing is unique because companies can avail its advantage specifically the real-time analytics. This analytics is comprehensive and vital to companies’ on-going strategy. With digital marketing company can directly see how it affects the business bottom line.
    In general, whatever contradictions digital marketing may bring to the company as the years go by, it is still an advantage if company will engage to this modern marketing strategy. Understanding the changes on market preferences is one of the key responsibilities of the company to succeed. Hence, for them to sustain their competitive advantages, they have to be responsive to these preferences and demands by maximizing the opportunities provided by the external environment. Advanced technology is one of them.

  3. Joel Tan 24 Oct 2018

    The evolution of the world over the last decade has revolutionized marketing and the way marketers work. With the modern technologies, digitalization and automation powered through the internet, marketing communications and product branding have leveled-up. However, despite sophistication and advancement, marketing is clouded by contradiction and complication.

    Experts were right in saying that while digitalization brings exponential opportunity, the industry has remained logarithmic in its resources, processes, and capabilities, hence no optimal benefit is gained from these technological developments. Similarly, although the growth of digital media and automation has scaled up the means to connect and build relations with the bigger greater market, the tools and techniques have been owned by a few digital giants. Further, consumers have become critical in the management of information. Social influencers have overtaken traditional media advertisers. On another note, while marketers continue to aim greater audience reach through automation and personal transaction, still they put a premium on the contextualization and personalization of their products and the company.

    In a digital world, the realities of marketing will continue to face myriad opportunities and challenges, the only way to thrive though is to keep things open and balanced.

  4. Lord Eddie Aguilar 25 Oct 2018

    From industrial revolution to the information technology and the internet of things, all aspects of life and in business has changed tremendously. Marketing is of no exception. The boom of the world’s population provides great challenges and opportunities for business and marketing. With the vast number of consumers worldwide, the industry through their marketing pushes their limits to persuade consumers in patronizing their products. This situation will allow us to understand the essence of marketing in business. As opined by Peter Drucker, marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product fits him and sells itself. But what is interesting is that despite this “new” knowledge in marketing and the technology that brought about this knowledge, there are still marketing dilemmas facing the business and the marketing professionals especially in this digital age. The article enumerates these dilemmas – company failed to adapt fast enough with the technology, the access of the digital platforms is controlled by few players (GAFA), fake news is thriving because of an open and easy access medium (internet), and the consumers struggle between personal and personalization in marketing. The business and the marketing people should have an open eye on these dilemmas and look for a solution to counter these challenges. In a world where change is inevitable, the only way for marketers to be relevant in the business world is to acclimatize this change and make things better and better every time opportunities kicks in.

  5. dindo alcuizar 25 Oct 2018

    Technology is one of the uncontrollable forces in the marketing environment that can either make or break a business since it can present an opportunity for businesses that have the resources and the skills to adapt. However, it can also present a significant threat for businesses that are slow to adapt to the changes in the technological environment due to either lack of resources or simply being stubborn just like NOKIA was in the advent of the android technology where the company was slow to respond and paid dearly for their lack of action. As the saying goes, “what happens is not as important as how you respond to what happened”. Indeed, change is inevitable, and technology has a lot to do with it. its either you adapt or be left behind.

  6. walter juera 26 Oct 2018

    Marketing is evolving from time to time, it adjust to the current demands of consumer on how ,where they want to be informed in such a way. It is evident that internet is taking the marketing business by storm, of which every consumer are already in line based. Because of technology it is very hard to keep up with the latest technology , where it is changes to fast. Even marketers cant keep up with the latest approach with the use of technology based marketing approach Facebook, google, amazon and many others are dominating the net with its wide range of links where in collaborating marketing with this such type of companies would be a breeze Change would be a very great challenge in an everyday set up, as much as marketing, that it would dictate the flow of delivery as time and technology would shape its marketing path.

  7. Doris Sunaz 14 May 2019

    The impact of the use of digital has brought a lot of challenges in marketing. We all know that the use of technology occurs very fast in which companies cannot keep up with the opportunities on hand since it is not that easy to bring changes in the organization’s culture and current settings. At present marketers have access to global audience unlike before, but the relationship it has is often linked with GAFA. Marketers may have reach a huge audience but its consumer trust is declining due to its unregulated social space which allowed fake news to increase. These platforms may help you find the right audience for your companies however it failed to look into the context of your advertising which matters most. With the current technology let us just hope for the better. Let us adapt change for our advantage and not just use it for our convenience.

  8. Jonathan Ganoan 8 Sep 2019

    In the advent of technology, marketing activities are now being done in a click and market related information is almost available everywhere. However, from the point of view of traditional marketing, these development may bring a negative impact on the business. Currently, although there is convenience and comfort in terms of service delivery or buying the product for instance, there seems to be a gap in terms of personalization compared to traditional marketing where the degree of interaction is high. More so, most of the marketing content nowadays lacks context that would explain or convey the real message as it is more on beautification and visual effects. In terms of consumers, milllenials and the previous generations have a notable difference in tastes, preferences, and judgment.

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